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Local authority powers to remove campers and vehicles under Criminal Justice and Public Order Act

This content applies to England

This page explains local authority powers to move campers and vehicles off land under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Local authority powers

Under section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a local authority can order any person living in a vehicle within its area to move off any land that:

  • forms part of a highway, or
  • is unoccupied (even where the person is causing no nuisance or interference to neighbours etc), or
  • is occupied, but the occupier has not given permission to her/him to reside there

Although the section of the Act uses the words 'unauthorised campers', the powers can be used where a Traveller is either on unoccupied land with the owner's consent or on occupied land with the owner's consent where the consent is subsequently withdrawn.

A criminal offence will be committed if Travellers fail to leave the land as soon as practicable after receiving a direction from the local authority to move, and the Travellers can be fined.[1] A removal direction (and a consequent removal order) only applies to people on the land at the time the direction was made and not to those who arrive on the site afterwards.[2]

There is no definition in the Act of what constitutes 'occupied' or 'unoccupied' land. However, mere ownership of the land or the existence of an unused house on the site will probably not be sufficient to constitute occupation. It is likely that it will be necessary for something to be actually done on the land (eg farming).

Returning to the land within three months

It is an offence for a Traveller to re-enter the land with their vehicle within three months of the date of the direction to leave, and they can be fined if they do so.[3] If proceedings are brought for the offence and the Traveller was unable to leave due to vehicle breakdown, illness or another emergency, this will be a defence to the action.

Surrounding areas of land

The Supreme Court has decided that whilst a possession order can only be made in respect of the land actually occupied, an injunction can be made regarding land that trespassers might occupy in the future (ie once they have been evicted from their current site).

However the landowner will need to show that there is a real likelihood of the Travellers camping on the adjoining areas.[4]

Groups affected by the offence

Advisers should note that this section applies to any person who resides in a vehicle and so affects both Gypsies and other Travellers. Only those who live (rather than being on holiday) in a vehicle are affected. This section means that all Travellers without a secure pitch will find themselves at risk of committing a criminal offence.

Local authority powers to remove vehicles

Sections 78 and 79 of the Act enable a local authority to apply to a magistrates' court to obtain a removal order so that it can go onto the land and remove vehicles that are there in contravention of a direction to leave. An authority has the power to remove vehicles after giving 24 hours' notice to the owner or occupier, unless the authority is unable to obtain their names and addresses.


The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] s.77(3)(a) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

[2] R v Wealden DC ex parte Stratford; R v Lincolnshire CC ex parte Atkinson [1995] Legal Action October 1995; 31st August 1995, QBD.

[3] s.77(3)(b) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

[4] Secretary of State For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs v Meier and others [2009] UKSC 11.

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